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The Bottom and the Top: Around Beacon Fell

A very popular slice of upland Lancashire countryside, by turns both expansive and intimate.

Distance 6 miles (9.7km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 689ft (210m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Field paths, in places indistinct, clear tracks, 19 stiles

Landscape Forest, heathland, farmland, woodland, riverside

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL41 Forest of Bowland & Ribblesdale

Start/finish SD 565426

Dog friendliness Dogs may run free on Beacon Fell and in Brock Valley

Parking By Beacon Fell visitor centre

Public toilets At visitor centre

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1 Look for a public footpath sign in the left-hand corner of the car park by the visitor centre. Go down the broad track, then through a field. Bear left towards Crombleholme Fold and walk through the farmyard, emerging on to a minor country lane. Turn right to reach a bend.

2 Go left, cross a stream then up a track swinging right. After 50yds (46m) go left, slanting gently down to a stile just before the field ends. From another stile, 15yds (14m) further on, go down a field then angle right to a low bridge and straight up the track beyond.

3 Go through the Cross Keys car park, through a farmyard and into a field. Go right to a stile then straight on to the corner of a hedge. Follow it to a tree then angle left to a stile. Go right then straight ahead to a lane and go left.

4 Go right to Lower Trotter Hill. Cross a cattle grid, go left, then round to the right and past a house. Go through the left-hand gate and up to a stile. Follow the field edge, eventually bending left. Go down a stony track and right on a road.

5 As the road bends to the right keep walking straight ahead. Descend a sunken track through woods and cross a footbridge. Go up a few paces, then right, and follow obvious paths near the river to Brock Mill.

6 Cross the bridge then go through a gateway on the left. Bear right up a track then go right, through rhododendrons. Follow the edge of a wood, then go right, crossing the stream. Go up a field edge and straight on towards Lower Lickhurst. Go round into the drive and up to the road. Go left for just a few paces, then go right, up a drive. Keep straight on as it bends left, up fields to a lane. Go right for 140yds (128m).

7 Go left over a stile and diagonally to an isolated thorn tree. Continue almost level to a gateway and then to a stile and footbridge. Follow an old boundary, now a muddy depression, then bear left to power lines. Follow these to a marker post. Go right, directly uphill. Cross the road to a track rising through forest. At a junction go left for 200m (183m) then right up a narrow path to the summit trig point.

8 Bear right along the edge of the forest then left across a boardwalk. Keep straight on to return directly to the visitor centre.

With a name like Beacon Fell, you'd expect a prominent hill, and it is. An outlier of the Bowland Fells, its altitude of 873ft (266m) may seem comparatively modest but its detached position gives excellent sight lines - and it was much more accessible for those who had to man the beacon!

In the days before telegraph and telephone, beacons were the nearest thing to instantaneous communication. Admittedly they couldn't convey any detail, but they did serve to warn of great events. Most famously, a network of hundreds of beacons - of which this was one - spread the news of the appearance of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

From this history, and some contemporary publicity, you might reasonably expect 360 degree views, but at the present time stands of conifers block out the southern half of the panorama. However, you get much of the 'missing' half anyway, early in the walk, as you descend the southern flank of the hill. Preston figures prominently. Alongside the anonymous tower blocks are the Preston North End football stadium at Deepdale and the slender spire of St Walburge's Roman Catholic Church, the tallest church spire in Britain after Salisbury Cathedral.

You wend your way across farmland, pleasantly enough, and then drop abruptly into the enclosed valley of the River Brock, usually referred to as Brock Bottom. A paper mill existed here in 1786, but was replaced soon after by a larger cotton mill. The mill site is just downstream when you reach the river, while on the way upstream you'll see remains of the millstream, dam and sluices. Since the mill closed in 1923, the valley has been popular with Preston folk. In the days when a bicycle was the most likely means of transport it was a handy distance from the town.

From the bridge at Brock Mill (don't be confused; this is not the main mill site previously referred to) you climb again. Rougher pastures, ill-drained and with large stands of rushes, intervene before the steeper climb through forest on to the upper slopes of Beacon Fell. Here there are large open areas, now being managed as heathland.

The summit view may expand with forest clearance in years to come but even now the half that you can see is grand. Mostly it's a fairly local prospect, over Bleasedale to the higher Bowland Fells. These rise to 1,673ft (510m) at Fair Snape Fell, but the most prominent is the abrupt end of Parlick. When the wind is right you'll usually see hang-gliders here and there's a gliding club based just below.

There's also an enticing slice of the Lakeland skyline, stretching from the dark whaleback of Black Combe to Dow Crag and Coniston Old Man, behind which Scafell and England's highest, Scafell Pike, appear.

Where to eat and drink

It's a couple of miles (3.2km) in the direction of Goosnargh to the Horns Inn, an attractive old place that does good honest pub food. There's a non-smoking dining room. Beer-lovers might want to continue that bit further into Goosnargh village and the Grapes, which also serves food all day.

While you're there

Longridge is a modest town with a few specialist shops. A little further away, on the banks of the River Ribble, is Ribchester. This is one of the most important Roman sites in Lancashire, with a nicely-presented museum. The White Bull Inn, at the stone-built heart of the village, has pillars which probably originated in a Roman bathhouse.

What to look for

There are three main classes of 'grass-like' plant. True grasses have round, hollow stems (bamboo is a grass). Sedges have solid stems with a triangular section. They are mostly found in damp or infertile soils - many of the 'grasses' on the moors are actually sedges. Finally, rushes have round solid stems. The soft rush is a common example. It grows in damp places but its clumps usually provide a sound footing.

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